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Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Keats on Shipboard, September 1820


File:Dabo - The Seashore.jpg

The Seashore: Leon Dabo, c. 1900 (Detroit Institute of Arts)

Twilight, a few white clouds about and a few stars blinking
The sweet signals that guide me to this unknowingness,
The waters ebbing and the Horizon a Mystery,
Sea surface calm and strange fish circling below in green

And violet shadows at the turning of the tide,
A sense of a kind of quiet submarine growth
Of darkness in the deeper, outer channels,
With my last English evening coming on.


Anonymous said...

If Keats had died aboard the Maria Crowther, his death would have been registered at St. Dunstan's, Stepney (founded AD 923), about 10 minutes walk from where I live.

Up until 1900, all births, deaths and marriages aboard British registered vessels were recorded as being in that parish.

So when you say, ' last English evening coming on...', strictly speaking, his last English evening would have been the one before (or when) he disembarked in Italy.

Jesus...what a nit-picking dullard I am. Sorry.

Lovely poem, gives the feeling of Keats' death pre-figured, as if Keats knew he was on his way to his death, as I suspect he did...

Billy said...

Beautifully written, he mumbles jealously.

TC/BTP said...

Thanks to both of you distinguished gentlemen.

Mish, I suspect your suspicion is correct.

Anonymous said...

BTW, just thought I'd mention--I read your Celine book and your Kerouac biography. Great stuff.

I've ordered your The World of Damon Runyon and I'm very much looking forward to it. Runyon, along with Ring Lardner and Mencken,was first introduced to me by Bernard Malamud and is a writer who's long interested me.

TC/BTP said...


I am delighted and honoured not only to have found a reader but to have found an intelligent and sophisticated one.

A great fan of my Runyon book was Sheldon Abend, Damon's theatrical agent, who was a real life "Damon Runyon character". (Sheldon once mentioned in a conversational aside to me that he owned Al Capone's hat and gun.)

Runyon invented a language and, to a curious extent, in doing so, also invented, as well as reflected, a world. The latter was the principal subject of my book.

The most interesting review of the book came from Ring Lardner, Jr., no slouch as a writer himself (his credits include the screenplay for M*A*S*H), who obviously knew whereof he spoke (family matters).

There was of course a difference between the Runyon "insider" strain of Golden Era sports journalism and the less-involved, more distanced Lardner "literary" strain.

Lardner, Jr. underlines the basic opposition of character and temperament between his father and Runyon.

"Half a century ago in the Georgica section of East Hampton, where my father and Grantland Rice had bought land together and built adjoining houses on the ocean, there was a slight taint attached to the name of Damon Runyon...I got the impression in my teens that there was something vaguely shady about Damon Runyon. As Tom Clark points out, the disapproval was all on one side. Runyon couldn't understand why his colleagues would want to spend time a hundred miles from Broadway finding their favorite diversion in a game he disparaged 'because golf doesn't require any courage, except the pants'... He shared none of my father's fondness for Scott Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker...or Granny [Grantland] Rice's for some leading figures of the social and business worlds. And they, moral and fastidious men both, couldn't understand what they regarded as a moral deficiency in him. It wasn't only gangsters and con men and ordinary denizens of the underworld whom Runyon chose as friends and drew on for fictional characters. He had quite a close relationship going with Al Capone, just as his friend Walter Winchell did with Lucky Luciano. And they felt there was something not quite right about a sportswriter getting involved in the actual promotion of athletic events, especially of prizefights with prearranged results."

Anonymous said...

'because golf doesn't require any courage, except the pants'.

What a great crack.

I think perhaps part of Runyon's charm was that his writing had the flavour of authenticity. He wasn't simply an observer of the demi-monde but a participating member. I can see how that might have not sat too well with more-polshed, for want of a better word-writers.

But Runyon was like my beloved AJ Liebling in that respect. Liebling didn't much care for the litterati and prefered to associate with bookie's runners, fighters and trainers, fly-by-night nightclub promoters, etc. I think it gave his and Runyon's prose the kind of pungency that I like...

Anyway, I look forward to reading the book. That era of American history has always fascinated me.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I've got a question that doesn't relate to your poem.
I'm wondering; how the hell can you live in Berkeley? Berkeley is the grimiest,most god-awful depressing place I've ever seen in my life. Since San Francisco and Berkeley were the epicenter of the Sixties hipsters isn't it kind of depressing to know that that energy is not only long-gone but absolutely rotting and putrid? I've never experienced such a shithole of wrongheaded graffiti-littered garbage in my entire life.
I'd love to be able to recommend my hometown of Eugene, Oregon, but unfortunately, it's become just as much of a dead end. My God, man! Anywhere but Berkeley.

TC/BTP said...

Dear Anonymous,

To quote Matt Groening, "Yo to Springfield, Oregon--the real Springfield!"

I hear Weyerhauser is downsizing and they're rolling over hazelnut orchards to build quick housing, but hey, it sounds me to me like a lovely place all the same.

But then it would not take much to be lovelier than the place where it seems you think I live.

I fear civic pride is not among my (few) virtues. Chance landed me here, disability prevents my leaving.

Should you really be interested in what a poet might have to say, under his own name, about living in the town you not unfairly describe, come back again sometime, return to the Contents Page, and browse some more.

Or let me make it easier for you still, click on these three poems about life in my de facto hometown.

A Meditation Outside the Fertile Grounds CafeToribioAll Saints

TC/BTP said...

Sorry but those links must have thought this was Oregon, and grown together.

The first one was:

A Meditation Outside the Fertile Grounds Cafe
A Meditation Outside the Fertile Grounds CafeThe second one was:

ToribioThe third one was:
All Saints
All Saints

Dale said...

I just got a copy of "Who is Sylvia", a novel that, like Tom's Celine, is just terrific.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply. Even though I use some pretty harsh words to slam Berkeley (God, I hate that town) I hope you didn't take it as an attack on you. Sorry to hear of your disability. You are a great writer. I absolutely love your stuff. "Sleepwalker's Fate" is probably my favorite collection of poems in the whole universe. Do take care. Respectfully, Steve

TC/BTP said...


Thanks for reminding me those books exist.


Many thanks, and as to harsh words, fear not, you were (alas) probably easier on the place than it deserves.

Elmo St. Rose said...

The World of Damon Runyon is an
incredible leap of Americana and
scholarship particularly from the
poetical cauldron of monastic

Misharialadwani mentioned Malamud as an admirer of Runyon. The Natural,
is a movie everybody has seen
even if they have not read the book. It
is about talent denied by an
encounter with a false muse and then when greatness reasserts itself the false muse appears again
in a prettier form.
Runyon loved greatness and explained it to the common man.

TC/BTP said...


Runyon in Bolinas was definitely a fish out of water or lobster out of cauldron kind of thing. I always assumed Damon would have been mystified by the place, "more than somewhat" to use his phrase.

It's delightful but not totally surprising, given he's an intense bibliophile, that our friend Mishari enjoys Runyon.

However for the most part I've also found Runyon ignored by if not unknown to the "literary".

This has struck me as odd because in my view the three great inventors of private own-world syntax among modern narratists were Gertrude Stein, Henry Green and Runyon; the latter two being rarely recognized as such.

Runyon's near total avoidance of past tense and equally near complete avoidance of the conditional, using instead the future indicative in situations that would normally require the conditional, have still not been reckoned with. It's a unique way of ordering words, and when you look at it closely, 'tis quite strange.

On the other hand I've met a great many smart and worldly non-literary people who love Runyon's work.

Dan Ellsberg told me he used a line from Damon's story "A Nice Price" as the epigraph to his Harvard Ph. D. dissertation on Game Theory:

"I long ago come to the conclusion that all life is six to five against."

That to me would almost qualify as a religious statement, if fatalism be admitted as a religion.

Anonymous said...

The imagery of this poem is full of my favourite kind of symbolism: a voyage. The end of the day together with the end of the journey towards the unknown. My own interpretation of the "strange fish circling below in green" is life that is left behind, all living things that will remain after we are gone. Life going on. And then the night falls and the end is near.
Very touching.

TC said...

The voyage never ends. The shipwreck in which we founder creates the whirlpool from which something we did not know will come to the surface. To that which remains after we are gone what can we say but Bon voyage?